This article is continued from Splitting our Historian 1: People.
The other side of the coin is our vast trove of genealogical information. Our five published Strong Family Updates volumes are only a small portion of the information we have collected and organized.
The SFAA is a genealogical society. One of the best ways to serve our membership and potential membership is to provide authoritative information regarding the Strong family and descendants. We have the information to be shared, but it’s just not that simple!
This is the quandary that I’ve been struggling with for years.
The Official Genealogy Database
I remain convinced that our ideal situation would be to have one or more “official” genealogy databases, such as with Family Tree Maker. At any point in time, we can click a button and generate a new book with the latest information received. This book is in electronic form. It can be purchased and mailed out on CD, or even be put up for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, EBay, etc. EBook publishing is definitely the way of the future AND it’s what the younger generation has come to expect.
The huge advantage of ebooks is that we don’t need to deeply cut our material. Our current published books, the five Strong Family Updates volumes, were very heavily condensed to keep the number of pages down. With ebooks, adding another dozen pages just does not matter. There is no additional cost!
With ebooks, we can (in theory) add any number of photographs and other research documentation. We can add stories and essays just as with the published volumes. We could include specific essays, for example, on Northampton and the Deerfield Raid of 1704.
The difficulty is that we do NOT have such a genealogy database. We need to create it, one name at a time, by hand. I’ve tried a number of ways to scan our material by computer and create the database, but the result is just not 100% accurate. That means the result is NOT acceptable! In short, we need to transcribe our thousands of printed pages, by hand, in to Family Tree Maker. Ultimately we need to do this… I don’t see any way around it.
Looking forward over the next 10, 20, or 50 years, our genealogy database allows us to enter new information as it is received. We can turn around and immediately publish the updated material for our membership.
To be sure, merely adding facts to Family Tree Maker is not the same as creating a publishable book. However, just getting the facts out in book form is a great start. We may have to leave the proper editing of those facts to a future generation! Our part is to ensure our future generation has those facts to edit.
Our Unpublished but Organized Material
We already have a lot of material which has not been published.
First, we have the “manuscripts in progress.” After publishing our Strong Family Updates books, we received additional information from our readers and new members. Our prior historians turned these into updated Updates manuscripts but they were never published.
Second, I have about 24 shelf feet of paper materials submitted by our membership over the decades. Much of this was original source material for the Strong Family Updates books. However, the material was very highly condensed to fit in the published books. It would therefore benefit our future to work through this material, folder by folder, gleaning all information suitable to be published. With electronic publishing there is no concern over the length of a book, or the length of a person’s bio. I, for one, would like access to all the information available!
Third, we have information sitting in the basements of our membership, particularly with our members who wrote the Strong Family Updates books.
Finally, we have the more recent information submitted.
We obviously can’t just dump this haphazardly upon our reading public. This is the quandary.
As an interim stopgap measure, we plan to get some information out to our reading public. Here’s what we are doing.
First, we are running all of our published books through my scanner to create PDF books on CD. We’re splitting this up by line. For example, Updates Volume III contains nine different lines (John Jr., Abigail, Experience, Samuel, etc.). Picture putting all the Samuel on one CD, Abigail on another CD, Sarah on another CD, and so on.
Then, we take all of our manuscripts in progress, and add them to the relevant CD. All manuscripts covering descendants of Samuel go to the Samuel CD. All CDs get the existing indexes, essays, front matter, and anything else helpful to the person researching that line.
So far, this is a straight-forward project. It’s just a matter of my taking sufficient time to complete the project. I have the scanner, I have the only copy of the manuscripts in progress, and I have the books to run through the scanner.
However, from the reader’s standpoint, this is not ideal. First, we have the two-volume Dwight’s History of the Strong Family. Then we have the Strong Family Updates, which are updates to rather than replacements of Dwight’s history. And then we have the manuscripts in progress, which are updates to the updates!
Crowdsourced Official Database
To create the Official SFAA Research Database means transcribing thousands upon thousands of our printed pages, not to mention additional thousands of pages not yet published. One thing we have going for us is that everything is very well organized.
Our only option is to take on the project one tiny piece at a time. We can start at the top, or we can start at the bottom.
For example, one of my Strong lines is the Sarah (Strong) Barnard line.
To start from the top, I would begin a fresh Family Tree Maker database with Sarah Strong and her first husband Joseph Barnard. I would then continue through all of their known descendants. This becomes the Official Research Database for the Sarah line, and we can generate electronic books directly from this database.
John Langbehn has gotten us started on this top-down approach by transcribing (so far) about 70% of the two-volume Dwight books into Family Tree Maker. I would split that into the individual lines, and use the Sarah section as my starting point for the Official Research Database for the Sarah line.
We could also take the “bottom up” approach. And, indeed, this is the approach I’ve been experimenting with this spring. I have my own very carefully vetted Barnard database. I’ve moved it to Family Tree Maker and this is the beginning of my Official Research Database for the Sarah line. I’m beginning with my own material, and will be folding in the published and unpublished SFAA material.
With this approach, we can take any interested Historian who is willing to begin with their own material. Use that as the seed for their section of the Official Research Database. That way, each person begins by working with the material with which they are the most familiar. Different people work in different sections, and indeed in completely separate Family Tree Maker databases.
What if you’re willing to help out as a volunteer, helping to create our Official Research Database? We hand you one relatively small task at a time, based on your own interest and preference. We begin with the choice:
- Would you prefer to begin transcribing from scratch, or
- Would you prefer to begin with what you’ve personally researched?
Crowdsourced Transcribing from Scratch
Let’s use the Sarah line as an example so you can see what I mean.
We begin with Dwight’s 2-volume History of the Strong Family. Only 3 and a half pages (pp. 1465–1468) cover Sarah. I believe that John Langbehn has already transcribed those pages into Family Tree Maker.
We start by “exporting” the Sarah portion of John Langbehn’s database. It’s tiny but it becomes our starting point. This is now our Official SFAA Research Database for the Sarah line. Thanks to John Langbehn, our first step is already done!
Next we look at Strong Family Updates Volume III. Pages 439–507 cover the Sarah line. Note that everything here is new material, not contained in the Dwight books. Note that this material is broken into several sections. This is important because it makes things easier on our volunteers!
- Pages 440–444 are the descendants of Dr. John Barnard M.D. John Barnard MD is already in our database because John Langbehn typed him in. We need to type in the descendants. In other words this is a relatively small task of transcribing pages 440–444.
- Pages 445–477 are the descendants of Sgt. Joseph Barnard, Jr. This is a larger task, but I for example would gladly take it on because this is my direct ancestral line. I know these people, so to speak! Assuming that John Barnard MD’s descendants are separate from Joseph Barnard Jr’s descendants, two separate volunteers could work on these two tasks separately, and combine the results later. We need a database expert to do the combining, though, because sometimes there ARE overlaps and intermarriages. Those intermarriages are fun to find, but they are difficult to track!
- Pages 478–485 are the descendants of Hannah Barnard. Again, transcribing this material into our database is a separate task from each of the above. We can take one step at a time, with no particular deadline.
- Pages 486–495 are the descendants of Thankful Barnard.
- Pages 496–507 are the descendants of Ebenezer Barnard.
All of the Strong Family Updates volumes are organized this way. Each volunteer can take on one section in any of the volumes. When that is complete, take on another section. Each volunteer would probably want to start with the section or sections which are their direct ancestors. That’s great; it all fits together!
The next step involves our Manuscripts in Progress. They are additional information received after the Strong Family Updates books were published. They are organized, structured, and split up exactly the same way as the Updates books. The next step is to fold in the information from the Manuscript in Progress for that section just transcribed.
Given that we have thousands of pages to transcribe, this seems like an overwhelming project. But the fact is that we already have things divided down into small pieces. We do one piece at a time, and over time, we have our Official SFAA Databases to serve us the next hundred years.
Crowdsourced Transcribing from Your Own Research
The “transcribe from scratch” approach begins with the oldest information first. We begin with the original material, add in the updates, add in the updates to the updates, and finally add in any newest material we might have.
The other approach is to begin with the newest material first. That is, begin with your own research into your own portion of the Strong family. We start the Official Database with your Strong-related material. We then fold in any Manuscripts in Progress affecting this same group. We then work with material from the Strong Family Updates, and finally we add any remaining information from Dwight’s 2-volume History of the Strong Family.
By working with the newest material first, we now have the ability to add more new material as it comes in (at least, for this portion of the family). Each volunteer begins with the area that he or she knows best, since he or she personally did that research or personally knows the person who did.
I believe both approaches (start transcribing from scratch or begin with your own research) are equally valid. I think it can be a simple matter of preference for each volunteer. Either way we are creating our Official SFAA Databases, one small piece at a time.
So long as we have a person coordinating our volunteers, we can handle as many volunteers as might be available. A group project like this, based on volunteer contributions, is often called crowdsourcing. The Crowdsourcing Coordinator is myself.
As the Crowdsourcing Coordinator, I have chosen to standardize on the latest version of Family Tree Maker as our tool of choice. We follow the guidelines and best practices as recommended by the folks who make Family Tree Maker. If you’re familiar with Family Tree Maker, you probably qualify as a volunteer!
Collector of Information
Let me illustrate the problem with something that came up this past weekend. I discovered that my distant cousin Kat Steckler descends from Joseph Barnard and Sarah Strong, as do I. Her 3rd great grandfather Erastus Barnard is in Updates Volume III. My additional records go one step further to name Erastus’ children including Kat’s 2nd great grandfather David.
The problem is this: As she sends us her genealogy (and she has done so), what do we do with it?
One thing we could do is fold it in to our existing manuscript, but that doubles the work since we ultimately want it to be in database form. Also, it currently IS in database form.
The other thing we can do is add it to our database. The trouble is, how do we connect it up? I’m just starting the transcribing, and I have not gotten so far as either David or Erastus. In this specific case, if I had the time, I could add Erastus and descendants as an unconnected tree and connect them up later. However, as a general case, all we can do is collect the information for later.
We therefore have another Historian role, that of Collector of Genealogical Information. We could ideally have a Collector of Information for each of our descendant lines, or groups of lines. However, if we have someone able to be the Collector of Information without having to take on any other roles, a single person should be fine!
This person is quite important to the SFAA’s future. I can show this person exactly how to organize and file the information. It’s tricky, to be sure, because these days we could receive things on paper, via email, in electronic (GEDCOM) form, on CD, via the membership application, and so on.
We are currently extremely well organized, with easily located file folders for each Strong person and their descendants. I have countless carefully organized and labeled file folders full of paper submissions and correspondence. I have about 24 shelf feet of file folders in all!
The difficult part of the role is understanding when the information is good enough for us to use. We need to meet a reasonable genealogical standard; we need to provide source citations, and so on. We need to get enough information that we can get it into the right file folder for future use!
Our Collector of Information, therefore, needs to know when the information is suitable for publishing in a future Update or for adding to our Official Database. This likely involves a lot of back-and-forth discussion with the person offering to submit the information, and of course, classifying and saving the information once it’s been collected. I can provide guidance for these tasks.
Seeker of Existing Information
This is a separate and rather important role. We have, amongst our membership, tremendous amounts of genealogical data. In particular, the people who wrote the five Strong Family Updates volumes may have source material, electronic copies, and so on, of the original material and manuscripts. We don’t want this information lost to the Association! We therefore need one or more persons interested in tactfully locating and discussing these repositories.
So where do I fit in? Have I handed over everything? No indeed! As the SFAA Archivist:
- I have several thousand pages of material to transcribe for the Sarah line.
- I have the five Updates volumes to digitize for sale as Books on CD, split up by descendant line.
- I have the Manuscripts in Progress to collect and publish on CD as our stopgap measure.
- Should we have volunteer transcribers, I am coordinating our crowdsourced Official Database efforts. As the Keeper of the Database, I create the guidelines and combine the volunteers’ results.
- I have those 24 shelf feet of research material to be gone through folder by folder.